“STILL YOUR FRIEND….”

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We met in law school. She was young enough to be my daughter, if I’d had a daughter by my first husband, which — thank God — I didn’t.  She’s still young enough to be my daughter, although now it’s thirty-one years later and she’s fifty-seven.  However, that’s neither here nor there.

She soon also became a friend, probably the best one I ever had,  although we always lived in different cities.  [She used to drive horrendous distances to come to class.] After law school, we stayed connected by long telephone calls every week or so:  two disaffected lawyers at their desks in big law firms, commiserating with each other for part of the afternoon behind closed doors.  You keep a pen in the hand that’s not holding the telephone and a yellow legal pad with some writing on it in front of you. If anyone comes in, you look annoyed and shake your head.  “Not now. I’m on a conference call.”  It always works.

We did have some face time. Occasionally, she came to my place for a weekend, or I made the reverse trip.  We did girly things and giggled.

Then I grew older, and worked less, and retired, and moved to another state.  She grew older, and worked more, and got a more important job in the legal department of a large corporation, and was promoted to Vice President, and then was transferred to the business side, which she found challenging and exciting, and where she began to make Really Big Money.

Not surprisingly, we couldn’t manage visits or calls anymore. She had no time.  But she did used to send an occasional Jacquie Lawson e-card with a tinkly tune and a little message that asked, somewhat plaintively, if I was still her friend.  Whatever that meant, after years of near silence.

Finally, I decided to be the adult in this situation.  I sent an email.

Hi there —

It occurs to me, more and more frequently, that I haven’t heard from you, even via Jacquie Lawson, for a very long time.  Which could mean that you are just an extremely busy and happy businesswoman in your “new” incarnation at work.  (Not so new anymore, I guess.)  Or it could mean that there is something (s. or pl.) less good in your life, which is not hard for even the Pollyanna side of me to imagine these days, as I have now reached the age where friends and acquaintances are falling by the wayside or being totally swept away.

On the other hand, you are a mere youngster — only a year or so older than I was when I sat for the bar!  So those kinds of somethings couldn’t be happening to you.  (I hope.)

Don’t just tap back, “Everything’s fine. More later.”  Later is later and Now is now, and it has begun to seem more prudent, to me at least, to make the most of Now.

That’s why I am sending this e-mail Now — a Before-Breakfast Now.  Surely, with all the state-of-the-art devices at your command, you can manage to get back to me Before-Bed?

xoxox

That very night, there was an answer:

I can and will get back to you before bed.  It is good to hear from you.

The good news is that there is no cataclysmic event in my life that has kept me from getting in touch.  The bad news is that my new job (not so new, as you correctly point out) has me existing at a level of stress I haven’t felt since my last year in private practice.  I can’t say I hate, or even really dislike, any one aspect of my new role. But I feel totally and on-goingly completely and utterly overwhelmed.  To the point — silly, I know — that the thought of getting myself to see you seems like planning a journey to the North Pole.  Even though I would very much like to.

Because I couldn’t see my way to confess this to you, I couldn’t bring myself to write.

There, how’s that for “everything’s fine?”

Actually, I can’t blame it all on work.  Due to my penchant for saying, “Sure, I’d be happy to do that!” when I should be saying, “Absolutely out of the question!” I am currently serving on the Board of Directors for five different non-profits, where I’m President of the Board for two and promised next in line to be President of a third.  And I’m mentoring three women at work.  And serving on about half a dozen business committees, several of which I chair, and….well, you get the idea.  I’m over-extended times 100, and don’t know how to extricate myself.  From almost any of it.

I would like to engage in scream therapy, but am afraid if I start, I won’t be able to stop.

There, I’ve told someone.  Honestly, I feel it most unpleasantly at night; I’m sure I’d sound less dire at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

It helps that I’ve confessed my despair to [her husband’s name goes here].  He said — and meant — all the right things.  Maybe it is not surprising that his encouragement to retire — or do whatever else would make me happy — has made the whole situation seem more bearable.  So I am going to try to muscle through another two and a half years, until I’m sixty, and then take him up on the offer.  In the interim, the goal is to drop off most of these Boards as my terms expire, turn down the two new Boards I’ve been asked to join, stop agreeing to mentor anyone new at work, and not apply for any of the jobs that have opened up in the business.  In other words, say, “No.” A talent I never mastered.

That’s enough for now, I think.  If a Star Trek device existed to beam me down for a visit, I’d come.  In the absence of that possibility, when I contemplate visiting you — by car or train — it seems more than I can currently pull off.

Maybe after I get through my first 300-person dinner meeting of the [city name] Economic Club.  Did you know how horrified public speaking makes me?  So why did I agree to be Club President, with five speakers and an equal number of sponsors to secure, dinners to plan and preside over.  Ahhh, just shoot me.

Yes, still your friend.

xoxox

She sent that over six months ago.  I answered in timely fashion.  Haven’t heard a word since.  Now I ask you:  Is that any way to live?

Oh, to be back in the nineteenth century, when people had all the time in the world to write letters  — which other people then carefully tied up in ribboned packets, to re-read and re-read till the next letter came! As it surely would.

Or wouldn’t.  Wasn’t there consumption and influenza and puerperal fever and drowning at sea? Which the recipient of the letters wouldn’t know about until a last letter came, from someone else, with the news? All right, the nineteenth century wasn’t so great, either.  A different kind of “not so great.”

Do I miss her?  Of course I do.  And I’m sure she misses me, too  — when she has time to think about missing anyone.   She just doesn’t have time. By the time she plans to have time, I may not have time.  I’ll be 85. (As if I need reminding.)

I’ve said this before about no-win situations, but I’ll say it again:  It is what it is.  

I just wish it weren’t.

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18 thoughts on ““STILL YOUR FRIEND….”

    • I suspect you do a lot of thinking anyway, Takami. But thank you for the compliment. And for another of those cryptic remarks of yours that make me wonder just what it is you ARE thinking…. 🙂

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  1. Rachael Charmley

    Just a moving post. You seem able to express what so many of us are thinking but don’t like to admit it. Succinct and powerful writing. 🙂

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  2. Have noticed that a lot of good people, especially women, find it hard to distinguish between ‘That needs doing’ and ‘I must do that’. The first may be true but the second doesn’t automatically follow.

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      • What an interesting question. At a guess different people have different motivations for assuming that what needs doing needs doing by them. Working/living with people who are slower/less capable/less committed could encourage that approach. (So someone with responsibility for small children for several years might well develop that as a general attitude.) In those cases it could as often be the result of exasperation or impatience as of love 
        Where it is done out of love that could, as you say, be to earn love from the person being helped. Or it could be an unconditional if small expression of love for them. A special case would be where the person loved was a divinity that urged believers to love everyone. That too could involve either an earned or an unconditional form of responsibility for humankind in general. Mystical love would be different again; presumably it involves prayer etc as an expression of unconditional love for the deity alone. All of these cases are person-specific which potentially limits the demands they make on the individual concerned.
        But there are also people who are just naturally so goodhearted that they feel for and care for everyone- if they see something that will help others and needs doing they cannot but take it on. For this group in particular work overload could easily become a real possibility.

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      • What a thoughtful comment! I had been thinking more along the lines of the person with low self esteem who feels the only way to merit approval, appreciation and/or affection is to work very hard for it, all the time. And then it becomes a habit of life. But you certainly open other avenues of speculation! Thank you.

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  3. If the prophet will not come to the mountain …

    Why not plan a trip to her city? Make it a leisurely visit with lots of time for visiting galleries and walking around and reading books and sitting in cafés. Then tell her you’ll be at X hotel during the week of Y and you’d be happy to have a coffee with her whenever she can fit it in.

    Even if you only see her briefly, I’m sure it would be good for both of you.

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    • Dear walkingthecat, I have no doubt at all you mean to be helpful, but I gave considerable thought as to whether I should “approve” your comment. I rather thought my post had not been asking, “What shall I do?” but suggesting there is a time and tide in the lives of formerly close friends that pulls them apart despite their best intentions, and that it is painful.

      But let’s take your advice at face value and consider it. This is actually a situation that’s way past a quick fix. (By the way, the prophet did already come to the mountain, as noted in the post, by initiating the correspondence after years of silence.) Have you considered whether “her city” has anything at all of interest to offer besides her company? (It doesn’t, and she knows it. We’re not talking London or Paris here.) Or the cost of an otherwise meaningless “leisurely visit” of 300 plus miles, plus hotel, restaurants, museum and other travel-related expenses for a retired person of 82 1/2 on a limited income? Or whether or not she could “fit in” a coffee or would even be in the city when I came? And whether or not a mere coffee would make either of us happy under such circumstances? (I myself do not like to hear from friends suddenly appearing in Princeton without any advance notice at all, so that I must drop everything to “see” them while they’re here or know they will be very disappointed.)

      But if I had marked your comment “Trash” or Spam” that wouldn’t have been right either. So should I have approved it and let it go unanswered, or just thanked you and kept my thoughts to myself? Or should I have given a substantive Reply, as I have done? What would you have advised? I hope I haven’t lost you with the Reply I’ve given. I do appreciate your readership. It’s just that there’s sometimes no easy answer in life, is there? 🙂

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      • Hm. Well, first of all it would never have occurred to me not to approve a comment just because I don’t agree with it. I have always laboured under the assumption that that function is there solely to filter out spam or hate speech or the like. But your mileage may vary.

        I don’t know anything about your financial situation or the boringness or otherwise of the town where your friend lives. I certainly did not suggest for you not to give advance notice — “week Y” obviously is not meant to be next week or even necessarily next month, and certainly intended to be far enough in the future to give your friend the chance to keep her schedule freer than usual.

        I do realize that you are 82. But the thing that I admire about you is that you don’t let that fact limit you more than it absolutely has to. Maybe my suggestion was not practical in your circumstances. But your friend’s “There, I’ve told someone” seems to indicate that, apart from her husband, she doesn’t have anyone else in her life she feels comfortable opening up to. And it seemed to me from your post that this friendship still means a lot to you as well, and so it would seem worth rescuing to me,

        And no, your “post had not been asking, ‘What shall I do?'”, and I’m aware of that. But that’s the thing about communicating with others — sometimes they give you answers you had not been looking for.:)

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  4. Gwen Southgate

    Being 85 may not be as bad as you seem to fear. It was getting there from 80 that was hard in my case… But, today, with two major problems out of the way, I am delighted to be still ticking over (thanks to miracles wrought by modern medicine–a far cry from what was available in the otherwise very pleasant letter-writing nineteenth century!)

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    • It’s not that I fear it. It’s that I know the chances of reaching it are dicier than they were at, say, 72. I’m delighted for you, too. And hope that in three years time I’ll be able to be delighted for me, too! 🙂

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    • Actually, I did go see her once, much earlier in the separation, for a weekend. It was a a visit sharply truncated at both ends by the demands of her job, and in between by business calls. So if one did a cost/benefit analysis, the trip was probably not worth making. And that was before the job promotion that now consumes her every waking moment. But it isn’t so much about visits as being able to take a little personal time to talk and/or write. The real problem is that we are at different points in our respective lives, with different priorities. For her, Work now always comes first, and it’s the kind of Work that keeps coming all the time, and then some.… For me, that kind of Work is thankfully over, and relationships with the people in my life who are dear to me come first. She will get there, eventually, after her retirement. But for now, we are living in different universes. I think it’s sweet, though, that you (and walkingthecat) are trying to fix it for me…. 🙂 Thank you anyway for the kind thought.

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